26 November 2005

Race and Class and a Certain Brand of Syrup - Blog Against Racism, Part II

This occured about a year ago, but I didn't hear about it until recently, and I find it worth talking about. By now, you've probably all heard about John Sylvester, the program director and morning personality on WTDY-AM in Madison, who, around a year ago, referred to Dr. Condoleeza Rice as "Aunt Jemima" (implying that Rice was chosen for the Secretary of State position because she'd be subservient).

Of course, the Black community found the term derogatory and racist (who wouldn't?), but what I find notable was the strength of the outcry from the rightwing community (do a google search - the first few pages are horrified rightwingers, apparently shocked that racism exists), in particular since they have occasionally, from time to time, been known to harbour racists in their midst.

Another thing to mention is that Sylvester apologised (and elaborated) almost immediately with this statement:
I'm concerned that I have offended many African-Americans by using a crass term to describe an incompetent, dishonest political appointee of the Bush administration. I apologize. I know the term "Aunt Jemima" is not complimentary to African-American women who have worked so hard and yet receive so little from our great country.

I will not, however, apologize for pointing out that while Rice has clearly enjoyed the American dream, she has allowed herself to be used as a black trophy by an administration that is working hard to deny that dream to other African-American women.

Rice has had a very successful career in academia, but unfortunately she has clearly forgotten that many African-Americans are still paying the price for a country that promoted years of segregation, oppression and discrimination.
The unfortunate part is that while apologising for his use of offensive imagery, Sylvester didn't actually deal with the inherent racism therein: it is racist to expect that a member of any group or ethnicity should first and foremost be expected to be a mouthpiece for that group. Dr Rice has every right to be a high-ranking official in a movement that hurts working and poor people of every colour and ethnicity.

Furthermore, it can be debated whether Rice is purely a mouthpiece for the Bushies or whether she helps steer the train from time to time. I think she is less of a "trophy" (i.e., token) than Sylvester states. First, she's tons smarter than "that idiot son", and their politico-religious views are very much in sync.

That said, I don't care much for Condoleeza Rice and the neo-con agenda. And I don't care much for the rightwing revisionists suddenly touting themselves as "the party of Lincoln". All of a sudden it's in vogue to deny that your political camp ever practiced racism and it's all the rage to rewrite history to make yourselves out to be the good guys.

Let's start with Lincoln himself. "The Great Emancipator" was more concerned with saving the Union than with freeing slaves (his infamous letter to Horace Greeley proclaimed "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it"). The Emancipation Proclamation originally freed slaves only in those states that had seceded (those states over which he no longer held any control), and this may have been a way to convince European countries (who'd all rejected slavery earlier) to remain uninvolved, rather than stepping in on the Southern side. Most damning, Lincoln was also quoted as saying, "I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black race. While they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior and I as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

However, Lincoln and the Republicans did abolish slavery and passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution that, among other things, abolished slavery, guaranteed equal protection and due process and addressed blacks' right to vote. Just as Republicans can take pride in this, so can liberals, as the Republicans were the liberal party of the day.

So, how did Republicans get marked as being racist? Easy. When the U.S. National Democratic party supported civil rights, the Dixicrats (Southern Democrats) left their party in droves, and in 1964, the Republican senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who had voted against the bill, was overwhelmingly supported by five of the Deep South states, four of whom had never voted Republican before. For the last forty years, Republicans have been aligned with various conservative causes and maintaining the staus quo, which has included mistreatment of minorities, women and gays, to name a few.

Let me be clear: I don't think Democrats are necessarily non-racist (or non-sexist, non-homphobic, etc). Similarly, I know that Republicans are not necessarily racist (sexist, etc). And certainly, the Democrats have a lot to answer for in terms of too much support for corporate hegemony, lack of a backbone in terms of opposing a war that is overwhelmingly being fought by people of colour, and way too much wishy-washiness in opposing the culture war (or even supporting the war, as in the case of Sen. Lieberman). These issues affect people in the lower portion of the socio-economic scale more than others, and therefore affect people of colour more harshly than whites.

I'm pretty happy that both parties are publically disavowing racism, although I am cynical enough to think that it's just another bandwagon. Maybe I'm wrong - I hope so. I'd like to see some changes happen. Let's come up with a plan.


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